Warao - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Although consanguineal kinship constitutes the framework for Warao social organization, specific rights and duties are determined by affinal kinship. The most important traditional relationship is the longterm social contract between father-in-law (arahi) and sons-in-law ( dawatuma ), with the former becoming over time the head of a large domestic unit that may grow to over 100 persons and constitute a separate settlement. Such an arahi then becomes the aidamo (village head) as well.

Political Organization. Holding political office was traditionally equivalent to the role of a major shaman, but since colonial times headmen and other officeholders have been appointed by outside authorities. A kabitana (captain) was usually the head of the strongest domestic unit of the village and the bisikari (derived from the Spanish fiscal ) or borisia (derived from the Spanish policía ) head of a minor one. The native governor ( kobenahoro ) presided over an area such as a delta river arm. Although there is no concept of exclusive land tenure, the leader of an inmoving Warao group must subordinate himself to the local kobenahoro. Political offices are assigned on the basis of prestige, according to the number of dependent workers ( nebu ) and public acclaim during ritual dances like the moriche ritual ( nahanamu ) or the fertility ritual of the "little rattles" ( habi sanuka ). Thus, a hierarchical ranking is established in an otherwise classless society. In recent years the Venezuelan administration has nominated paid police comisarios , but they have little influence on day-to-day activities.

Social Control and Conflict. There is little coercive control available to headmen and other political officeholders. Gossip and complaining in an even-toned monologue serve to attract attention to grievances. Ridicule of antisocial behavior is very effectively aimed. Shamans, however, especially hoarotu shamans, exercise considerable influence through the threats of witchcraft and punishment by the supernaturals. The Warao do not wage war; traditionally, they have retreated deeper into the moriche-plam swamps when threatened by neighbors or invaders. They are known to be very pacific, but there are occasional outbursts of violent reactions to abuses by outsiders. The concept of knauobe, literally "the retribution of the head," is very important to the Warao and implies an ideal equilibrium with nature and between persons, but also vengeance. Intra-group conflicts are mediated through public hearings ( monikata ), with the aim that "all should be satisfied." Intergroup conflicts are handled by the Warao through the use of witchcraft ( hoa ). "We kill each other with hoa," the Warao say. Among interrelated groups a quite peaceful contest with shields ( isähi ) is used to vent anger.


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